Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review: The Hearts of Men

Today on XBL Indieverse Reviews we'll be taking a look at a fantastic top-down Indie title called "Hearts of Men" by Coltran Studios. This game is a great addition to any gamer's Xbox Indies library, especially those that enjoy local co-op games that focus on team play.

The Hearts of Men 80 MSP

This particular Xbox Live Indie Game has elements that are similar to other games such as the XBLA title "Gauntlet", especially in its utilization of co-op team dynamics and how the levels are designed. This game is a great title for gamers who like to play with others, especially with three other players--four player unlocks the full potential for fun in "The Hearts of Men".

The Hearts of Men

  •  Rating
  • Developer – Coltran Studios (misterjz)
  • Genre – Classics
  • XBL Marketplace URLThe Hearts of Men
  • Release Date – 3/4/2011
  • Try or Buy? – Try Before you Buy
  • Price – 80 MSP
"Grab your friends and prepare for the ultimate Hack n Slash throwback! Classic gameplay meets amazing graphics in this first release from super indie developer COLTRAN Studios. Button Mash your way through +10 levels of demonic mayhem and encounter epic boss battles sure to make your thumb bleed!"
--Xbox Live Marketplace Description

I.  Story Line

Four adventurers reach the steps to an ancient dark tower that seems to radiate corruption and evil. This vile monolith stands as an aegis to all that is malignant in the world, and it is up to our heroes to dispel the decadence within. Armed with their abilities and their wits, our protagonists must slay the hordes of evil monsters to bring salvation to the lands and to stop the castle's eternal fiery reign over the world.

Can our band of wayfaring warriors smite the wickedness that lies within the hallowed walls of the ancient keep, or will they be consumed by the darkness and be slain like whole armies have before them at the gates of this evil dungeon? It's up to players to find out in this exciting and fun Xbox Indie!

Image from The Hearts of Men
The four different usable characters in The Hearts of Men

II. Game Mechanics

This game functions very similarly to the XBLA title Gauntlet in its design and overall dynamics, especially in the respect that co-op play has an advantage over single-player. Gamers can enjoy up to four-player co-op, and having even a second players can be an enormous help--however if you're looking for a challenge, single-player is the way to go.

Besides having co-op, this game also has two types of difficulty modes: Classic, which has more hordes of monsters for players to defeat, and Casual, which is an easier mode for beginner players. There are four different classes of hero for players to choose from: 
  • Warrior The hearty warrior throws two swords at once with each press of the A button.
  • Elf - The arrow-shooting archer who has a high rate of fire and launchers green projectiles at enemies.
  • Warlock - The arcane magic slinging mage that utilizes the arts of spellcasting to fire purple bolts of energy at hostiles.
  • Viking - The vanquisher that uses his brute strength to launch a volley of blue scimitars at enemies.
When combined in any way, these characters become deadly assets in battle, especially when an entire team of four is playing.

Players must utilize the dynamic of shooting swords and spells in one of four directions--diagonal shots are also possible but they're a bit harder to pull off, and in single player it's a bit impossible to run from an enemy and shoot at them at the same time since heroes launch their attacks in whatever direction the character is facing. Single-player is much more difficult for this reason.

Image from The Hearts of Men
The Wizard's main magical spell attack.

Players must also utilize the aggro radius of monsters to their advantage, and to dodge huge groups--normally walls block the monsters yet they will be attracted to players, and it's a useful strategy to play "cat and mouse" when playing with friends.

Health is represented in a numerical format rather than a bar, and this makes it a bit confusing at times to keep up with--however it also gives players an exact reading on their current status. Health can be up to 300 points which is triple the normal 100 hp in some games, yet there is no leveling system to improve characters. Players can also resurrect fallen allies by holding X near a downed friend, bringing them back to life. There aren't any limit of lives unless you're playing on single-player, or if players don't resurrect dead allies in time.

Each character also has a super Special Attack that annihilates most of the enemies on the screen, which is incredibly useful when players are extremely overwhelmed by hordes of creatures, or are very close to death and need a second of salvation. The special attacks are also impressive and have some really neat visual effects and are activated by pressing Y once players have attained a Blue Potion.

There are over ten stages and levels to play in this game, and each can be selected and re-played at any time with any number of players in a certain party. This allows beginners to go back and play the first level or to have all players join in for the last level's hectic and frenetic action. 

III. Weapons/Items

There aren't that many items in this game, and each character only utilizes their own signature weapon--there are no variations; Warriors throw swords, Elves shoot arrows, Wizards launch magic and Vikings hurl scimitars. Each characters weapons are a separate color which makes for easy identification while playing with more than one player.

Potions are very important in this game, however. There are three different types of potions that all are essential to getting far in this Xbox Indie; they are Blue, Green, and Red Potions.

  • Blue Potions +1 Special Attack These potions are coveted and are key to destroying large groups of enemies and when used right can be extremely effective.
  •  Green Potions Restore Health 100% Green potions are very important and can be the difference between life and death in this game, especially when players are overwhelmed.
  • Red Potions Heal Everyone In Your Party These potions are very useful as well, and can save your friends in hectic moments.
There are also Keys in this game that are used to unlock gates--this serves as the main goal in any given stage, and is how players progress to the next level. Sometimes keys can be in obvious places, other times they are hidden in the labyrinthine mazes that fill the stages.

Overall, the items (such as keys and potions) and the weapons (each character uses a different weapon attack--swords, bows, etc.) are very dynamic and key elements to the game itself. It's very important to maintain a healthy supply of vitality potions and ability potions if players want to succeed past the middle of the game.

Image from The Hearts of Men
The Viking's in-game Special Attack

IV. Unique Features

Four-Player action is a great feature that this Indie uses to provide for hours of enjoyable entertainment. When in a team, even of two-players, this game unlocks its true potential--when using strategies and team efforts, this game becomes something different than it is on Single-Player.

The graphics and visuals are also a great addition--comic inspired scenes and pictures are prevalent throughout this title, especially on the introduction scene and the main menu, and the character selection screen. This kind of art is somewhat rare to find in an Indie, and it is a very nice touch that appeals to the comic geek in most gamers.

The Mini-Map is another useful feature that comes in handy in this game. The map is viewed by pressing the Back button, and instead of showing the entire area, it shows the portion that the player is located. The map is unique in that it does not show the main character, his allies, or even enemies--it is strictly a map of the current area. This adds a new challenge to the game that is amplified on Single-Player since you're alone in the areas.

This Xbox Indie also uses the concept of missile projectiles as the main basis of attack--instead of close-range melee attacks, all characters launch their respective weaponry at enemies--this implementation is very similar to the retro arcade game Gauntlet made by Atari Games in the 1980's*.

Image from The Hearts of Men
This game also features epic boss fights.
V. Critique

The Good

Four Player Co-Op! This title contains all the elements needed for a great bout of co-op action, especially with four-players. A fantastic title to play when friends are over and you need a game to enjoy on the spot. It's fast-paced and doesn't take a while to start up--you're right in the action after a quick load-up, ready to hack and slash enemies with your team.

It's Fun! The Hearts of Men is a classic Xbox Indie that is at the heart of retro with it's blast-from-the-past dynamics of hack-and-slash* games. It incorporates several aspects gamers will be familiar with, and it's a sure way to enjoy an 80 MSP purchase, especially if you're a gamer that usually plays with friends.

Great Visuals and Soundtrack! As far as Xbox Indies go, this game has a great soundtrack that flows with the game and the sound effects are very accurate as well--overall the music and the effects combine to deliver what gamers expect from the medieval age. The visuals are astounding, and the comic-inspired graphics are something that is kind of rare in the Xbox Indie scene, especially since they are of exceptional quality. The in-game visual effects are great, too--whether you're using a Special Attack or reviving a player, the visuals are fluid and are very fitting.

The Bad

Single Player is Hard. Players will notice right away that Single Player is considerably more challenging than local co-op, especially since you can't run and shoot an enemy at the same time. Gamers must be cautious and strategize their attempts even at the very beginning, and some players may find this to be aggrevating.

Bugs/Glitches. There are a few bugs and glitches some players may notice in gameplay--while these are usually minor, they can sometimes inhibit gameplay and turn some gamers away from the title. These problems will be addressed with updates, so it's really a minor annoyance rather than a huge setback.

No Loot; Armors/Weapons. I would have liked to see some sort of loot system in play here--sure there are potions, but items such as armor and gold would be great to make it more of a dungeon crawl type of game, sort of like Xbox Indies Epic Dungeon or Dungeon Adventure.

VI. Wrap-Up

Overall The Hearts of Men is a great Xbox Indie for many reasons, besides the minor drawbacks; whether its the four player co-operative campaign mode, or the actual frenetic gameplay itself, this XBLIG title is sure to please gamers around the world. Gamers can expect a robust gaming experience full of strategy and challenges, especially when playing solo. Put your button-mashing skills to the test in this fast-paced medieval fantasy game.

For more information on The Hearts of Men and the developers, visit Coltran Studios' website for updates, news, and more on this and upcoming Xbox Indie titles.

Coltran Studios on YouTube

Coltran Studios on Twitter

The Hearts of Men Facebook Page

Skeptical? Want to try The Hearts of Men out for yourself? Click the picture to download the Free Trial!
The Hearts of Men
The Hearts of Men Free Demo
That ends our official look at the funtastic Xbox Live Indie Game "The Hearts of Men" for 80 MSP. As you can see this title is a must-have for all Gauntlet afficionados and fans of the traditional medieval-age top-down slash and hackers out there, and this title also brings us back to the nostalgic, retro age of arcade gaming.

*Source: Wikipedia Articles Gauntlet, Hack and Slash, & Dungeon Crawl.

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1 comment:

  1. Wow!! I am right now, praising you Deeke, thank you for our FIRST review!!! And man, great writeup--I would ask about posting certain quotes but the whole thing is so impressive, I just want to repost the whole review!!! Well done man :D